Most of us may remember Natalie Wood as young Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street. Or Maria in the movie West Side Story. She had many other movie and television roles throughout her life; but one thing most of us are interested in now is her death.
November 28, 1981, Natalie Wood was taking a weekend break on the yacht, Splendour, to Santa Catalina Island, with her husband, Robert Wagner, co-star Christopher Walken, and the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern.
Natalie’s body was recovered by authorities on November 29, 1981 in the morning. She was approximately 1 mile away from the yacht with an inflatable dinghy beached nearby. Her cause of death was originally ruled as accidental drowning. The autopsy revealed that she had bruises on her body and arms, as well as an abrasion on her left cheek, but no indication as to when or how the injuries happened.
Her blood alcohol content was 0.14% and there were also traces of a motion sickness pill and a painkiller in her bloodstream. Both of which would increase the effects of the alcohol. It was suggested that she slipped while re-boarding the dinghy.
Now most people would have simply stated it was a tragic accident and not pushed it any further. Allowing the family to grieve for the loss. But that wasn’t going to happen. Lana Wood, Natalie’s younger sister, felt that something wasn’t right about the death of her sister. She knew that her sister wouldn’t have used the dinghy. She would have remained on the yacht, as Natalie couldn’t swim, and was terrified of the water. Other witnesses came forward stating they heard a woman scream for help during the night.
In November of 2011, thirty years after her death, the case was reopened. Dennis Davern publicly stated he had lied to police during the original investigation. He now stated that Natalie and her husband Robert Wagner, had an argument that evening. When Natalie had disappeared, Robert prevented Dennis from turning on the search lights and from notifying the authorities.
Dennis Davern alleged that Robert Wagner was responsible for her death.
According to Dennis, Natalie was flirting with Christopher Walken and this enraged Robert Wagner. He was jealous and may have done something irreversible.
It is not clear how she ended up in the water, but it was determined by a former intern of the original coroner that the bruises on her body were substantial and fitting for someone thrown out of a boat.
In February of 2018, Robert Wagner was named a person of interest in her death. He has denied any involvement. Robert Wagner has told his stepdaughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, that “Nobody heard anything. That night has gone through my mind so many times.”
As of 2021, Robert Wagner has not been charged in her death.